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Braunholtz: Put people before profit

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

This week we’ve seen two “oh my gosh!” sad events at vastly different scales. A massive cyclone hit a vulnerable part of Myanmar (Burma), drowning tens of thousands and now threatening many more with hunger and disease.

Then at the Kentucky Derby the filly Eight Belles collapsed breaking both her front legs, She then had to be killed right there with everyone watching.

The tragedy in Myanmar is numbing in scale. The sheer numbers quoted don’t affect us emotionally as much as a personal story. They should, but we can’t grasp what is happening. Myanmar’s military leaders are receiving a lot of justified criticism as they look much more competent at oppressing their people than helping or protecting them.

They are failing the basics of any governments’ responsibility. The cyclone exposed their autocratic “tough love” rule as pretty much useless for their actual people.

I’m always amazed that in so many disasters the government appears more worried about losing any control. Our own Katrina is a good demonstration of poor disaster preparedness and finger pointing management, so we shouldn’t be too harsh on how they’re dealing with a much worse disaster with even fewer resources.

An under-utilized resource in all these catastrophes are the local and immediate survivors. The people involved will help themselves if given the chance and the tools. Stories always emerge after the event of many heroes who saved others and shared shelter and food.

In New Orleans, lots of people just drove their boats around rescuing stranded families. In the California wildfires, the best information for rescue and evacuation came from locals on cell phones and the Internet. Governments tend to overlook these people as they’re not officially organized, but they’re there and no one else is yet.

The Eight Belles tragedy is different; it’s just one horse, so why do we care? There’s something about a horse. All seeing eyes, serpentine neck, muscle and bone, beautifully naked, a rippling contradiction of fragility and power; they’re the supermodels of the animal world.

We have a huge soft spot for our companion animals, as it doesn’t take much interaction to discover their personalities and emotions. Why do we recoil in horror at dogs and horses being slaughtered for meat? Any free-range farmer will tell you cows, pigs, etc. also show similar personalities, though we prefer not to dwell on this.

Animals also show signs of empathy and reciprocity, which are the basis of our moral code ” do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Pretending to cry is a sure fire way to get your dog (or gorilla) to come over to comfort you.

Watching a horse being killed after she’s run her heart out for us is one of those things that feels wrong. It’s inevitable in horse racing as breeders maximize power and reduce weight for speed. It’s like a bike, a light frame will be faster but it’ll break more often ” though you can fix a bike.

Horse racing, like all money sports, has a continuing history of drug use for performance (steroids) and to hide injuries (pain killers). Running at artificial power on an injury you can’t feel is a lethal combination. Vocal denials of drug use mean little as anyone who follows athletics, cycling, baseball, football, etc. can see.

Both the little tragedy of a broken horse and the bigger one of a broken country makes me feel powerless. I’m not in Myanmar and I don’t buy or breed racehorses, so I have little influence either way. Still, I can help ease the pain by sending money to humanitarian and horse rescue charities. Longer term solutions involve larger sacrifices of not following horse racing, paying more for ethical products from Third World countries and voting in politicians who will put pressure on countries like Myanmar and their trading partners (China) to respect human rights.

We need to put the well-being of others ahead of profit. This will cost us in terms of choice, performance and price, but the alternative is just not to care.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a column for the Daily. Send comments or questions to editor@vaildaily.com.


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